TORONTO (CCN) — There are 20 million people on the edge of starvation in just four countries and Development and Peace thinks we should do something about it.
A new government of Canada matching fund which will double the value of charitable contributions may give Canada’s Catholic aid organization a chance to save some of those lives.
Though the time-frame is short — a June 30 deadline for contributions to be eligible for matching — Ottawa’s Famine Relief Fund represents an opportunity to do more in a woefully underfunded emergency, said Development and Peace emergency program director Guy Des Aulniers.
“It’s good in a way. It will create a momentum,” said Des Aulniers.
Since United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres declared an emergency in February, the global response to starvation, drought and refugee populations in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen has been slow. As of May 15, the UN’s World Food Program reported global funders had only committed 24 per cent of the $3.8 billion needed to head off starvation in the four countries.
Ottawa’s new matching fund gives independent charities such as Development and Peace a month to raise as much money as they can. For every dollar raised, the government will add a dollar to its Famine Relief Fund, administered by Global Affairs Canada. Agencies such as Development and Peace — with contacts on the ground and a history of working in the affected countries — will then be invited to apply for grants from the resulting fund.
Climate change, war, politics, incompetent local governments and corruption play a part in each of the four food emergencies targeted by the Famine Relief Fund. If donors are looking for an uncomplicated, straight-up natural disaster to fund they won’t find one, said Des Aulniers.
“People ask the right questions: ‘If I give money, who is going to use this money and for what?’ Those are really, really relevant questions. It’s really hard when you have to explain the situation, when it’s so complicated,” he said.
The politics behind the civil war in South Sudan may be complicated, but the situation Luciano Moro’s 67-year-old mother faces as she waits in a refugee camp on the South Sudan-Uganda border is simple. She and her enormous extended family don’t have enough food and can’t return home for fear of being killed by one army or the other. Drought has wiped out her family’s crops and made food scarce and expensive in and near the refugee camps.
Moro, who works as outreach co-ordinator at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office for Refugees, visited his mother and scores of aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings over Easter. He saw his farming family in despair, struggling to feed themselves and their children.
“They know how to manage their lives if given the opportunity to do so,” Moro told The Catholic Register. “Especially if the rains come and there is land available. They can actually grow crops that will mature within three months — three or four months — to alleviate the hunger situation.”
But there is also a war raging to complicate matters. When Moro’s relatives hit the road for Uganda last year their crops were maturing. Some of the men tried sneaking back across the border to harvest vegetables their families desperately needed in the refugee camps.
But wandering farmers were treated as spies by both government and opposition troops.
“A few people got killed, didn’t make it back,” said Moro. “That is the desperation we are talking about — people trying to find a way to get food to their families.”
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace works with Caritas South Sudan on a variety of food security programs. Its current programs have provided 5,330 households with food, given secure access to clean water and sanitation for 8,980 households and sheltered up to 1,000 families temporarily in church compounds.
“The efforts by Development and Peace would go a long way to particularly alleviating the situation of hunger,” said Moro. “It can go a long way to denting that need which currently exists in the camps.”
For now, Moro thinks of his family in the refugee camps and is interested in the immediate, short-term response.
“The humanitarian need is one that is immediate and urgent,” he said. “Definitely we cannot stand by and watch children and seniors and those who are vulnerable die.”
There are 5.5 million people inside South Sudan who face starvation, but the United Nations’ $1.4 billion response plan remains 86 per cent unfunded, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program.
Despite the grim odds, South Sudanese just want to get on with their lives, said Moro.
“They would probably go back if the situation was peaceful.”
— 1.9 million internally displaced plus 1.75 million refugees huddled around the country’s borders, mostly women and children.
— Oil constitutes about 90 per cent of the country’s hard currency income. Government, opposition armies fighting for control of it.
— 8.5 million people in the Chad Basin, including 1.9 million displaced people, face starvation in the drought-stricken region.
— The drought has been the perfect recruiting tool for Boko Haram, which uses child soldiers in raids against the Nigerian army.
— Development and Peace works with Caritas Nigeria in Borno State, concentrating on basic medical care for mothers and children under five.
— 6.2 million people are dependent on aid, including 1.7 million displaced by war, drought.
— The recognized Somali government controls Mogadishu and the counties immediately surrounding the capital city while al-Shabaab militants run a sort of roaming mafia administration throughout the countryside.
— In the 99 per cent Muslim country, Development and Peace has to be careful about naming its partners, but Canada’s Catholics have funded immunization programs for 1,500 children before their first birthday and have provided basic health treatment to 10,000 children under five.
— 18.8 million people, or 70 per cent of the population, need aid.
— Cholera has broken out and children are dying of malnutrition and preventable diseases.
— Development and Peace is working with Britain’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development to deliver food, improve water and sanitation and provide basic health care.